Last weekend, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development in President Peter Mutharika’s government, Ben Malunga Phiri, became probably the first Cabinet Minister in the history of this country to throw a street beer party on a Sunday afternoon.
He removed his ministerial robes to fete his friends and compatriots at ‘Zibolibili’ off Victoria Avenue in downtown Blantyre on high volumes of alcohol. In pictures that went viral on social media, the Minister is seen sitting on a chair surrounded by bingeing friends whilst talking and laughing unreservedly around many alcohol bottles. He seemed to be clearly comfortable and relentless with the group which was unmistakably enjoying itself as well.
Nyasa Times should state clearly at this onset that it is not wrong to chat with friends or to connect with long lost compatriots over a bottle of beer. Actually it is even encouraged to develop networks and bond with friends and acquaintances whilst enjoying a good brew or Shisha, because that is what creates societies and brings about peace and understanding. Just that the Ben Phiri scenario may not be your typical case of bonding over a glass of brew; it is something else appalling which is why we are talking.
To begin with, Honourable Malunga Phiri is a Parliamentarian representing the noble people of Thyolo Central Constituency. On top of that, he is also a Cabinet Minister in the new government of President Arthur Peter Mutharika; as such he is no ordinary individual whose actions and conduct cannot just be passed up. It is only natural that he should be under constant public scrutiny as duty bearer entrusted to carry out public duty under the Constitution of this Republic.
It also naturally expected that a Cabinet Minister should be a person of high decorum and integrity; one who is expected not to behave waywardly, and one expected to set a good example of positive public life particularly to the youths of this country. It is such appalling and sad that Ben Phiri has chosen to be a very bad example to the public because of his display of unbecoming public behavior, which is exactly what a Cabinet Minister ought not to do.
A ministerial position is very high position in this country because it means one is an advisor to the President and a key player in the policy-making framework for the government and a country. It means Ben Phiri is a senior and entrusted individual who plays a key role at the apex level of decision making in the President Peter Mutharika government. Now what message is he sending when he buys alcohol and throws street parties at ‘Ziboliboli’ with curio sellers and known hoodlums in full glare of the public and on Sunday afternoon?
We know he may have done that to endear himself with the people, who are mostly ‘men of town’; we also know that Ben Phiri has had his fair share of life in the streets and at ‘Ziboliboli’. He may have been driven by the desire to reconnect with his long time friends and to demonstrate to them that he has progressed in life and that he is Cabinet Minister now. In as much as we understand that there is always a powerful instinct in people to ‘show off’ to friends that they have made it in life, what Ben Phiri did was ill-conceived for a Cabinet Minister.
It is an open secret that the place called ‘Ziboliboli’ in Blantyre is a bastion of illegal trade. It is a place where most of the illegal trade in foreign exchange takes place; it is also the central dwelling place of ruthless loan sharks and experts of underhand dealings; obviously the least place to expect a whole Cabinet Minister to sit and drink beer with alleged friends on a Sunday afternoon. On top of that, Ben Phiri also claims to be a Christian from Cavalry Family Church, which abhors, not just drinking alcohol, but also drinking in public places.
What Minister Ben Phiri is doing is to dilute the position of Cabinet Minister and bringing the government of President Mutharika into disrepute.
This country is going through a difficult time economically; a majority of Malawians are living on less than a dollar a day, which is below the internationally recognized poverty threshold under the United Nations (UN), and for the whole Cabinet Minister to be found bingeing publicly on useless alcohol with questionable characters in town is a display of insensitivity of the highest order to the suffering of the people. Just what message is Ben Phiri trying to send to the world? That he does not care even if other people are suffering as long as he is Cabinet Minister?
If Ben Phiri had wanted to fete his friends, he should have easily done that in private, and not publicly like he did. It only means there is something horribly wrong with his moral compass which is dangerous for a Cabinet Minister. We have had people with funny characters who have been Cabinet Ministers in Malawi before. Dumbo Lemani is a perfect example. He served in the UDF government of Bakili Muluzi, and his office was in Umoyo House closer to where Ben Phiri threw his street party.
Dumbo Lemani would often descend from his office to chat with people and friends in the streets down. He would sit on benches and giggle comfortably with the people but there was no record of him throwing public street parties where people would drink alcohol relentlessly.
If the Cabinet Minister was following in the footsteps of President Mutharika, who not long ago feted some DPP youths at Sanjika Palace, then he did it badly. President Mutharika was roundly criticized for throwing that party, and will most likely not do it again, and he did it at Sanjika Palace not in the streets.
For Ben Phiri to emulate that example and in that manner is deliberately fanning the fires of public anger that Mutharika hoped time would douse. It is not long ago when the same Ben Phiri was publicly reprimanded by the First Lady when he courted controversy after he insulted the very womanhood of former First Lady, Dr. Patricia Shanil Muluzi. Now he thinks throwing alcohol street parties with gangsters is a way of cultivating his own brand of populism.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :